Women’s Equality, Business Tenacity The Hot Topics At Leadership Forum

By Tony Adams
Columbus Ledger-Enquirer.

Equality for women in leadership roles was the point driven home Tuesday by Facebook executive Sheryl Sandberg, while Spanx founder Sara Blakely crafted a story of creativity and tenacity in getting her shape-wear clothing line off the ground.

The nationally known businesswomen were among a half-dozen speakers on the second day of the Jim Blanchard Leadership Forum, in its 9th year and held at the Columbus Convention and Trade Center.

“In order to get more women to the table where decisions are made, we need a lot of changes. We need all kinds of things to happen,” said Sandberg, who worked at search-engine giant Google and with the U.S. Treasury in the Clinton administration before landing at Facebook, the popular social media site.

Sandberg said women in the corporate world face a deep-seeded and lingering bias in which they are looked down upon for being assertive or aggressive in the workplace, while men are expected to have those traits to lead.

“For too long, we did not talk about gender. Pretending these biases don’t exist is not working,” she said. “As women get more powerful, they are less liked by men … The good news is that by understanding this we can change it.”

Blakely, an Atlanta resident who started Spanx with $5,000, spoke of taking the basic idea for her product — pantyhose with the feet cut away — and working her way through a patent, lining up a manufacturer, landing Neiman Marcus as a retailer, and pushing even harder as the orders began to roll in. Fourteen years later, she has more than 200 products and has been endorsed by celebrity Oprah Winfrey.

“I found out that women’s hosiery products were mainly being produced and marketed by men, which explained why they were uncomfortable for us (women),” she said in a presentation filled with humor. “I was the consumer and I felt like people had been neglecting us for a long time.”

Motivational points made by Blakely included not stifling your personal life or career by remaining stuck in a rut, and visualizing the things you are good at and moving forward with ideas.

The other speakers at the forum had plenty of food for thought. Nuggets included:

— Retired U.S. Navy Vice Admiral John Ryan — Strategy is about asking questions, and essentially acknowledging as a leader you don’t have all the answers.

— Productivity author Marcus Buckingham — The job of a leader is not to correct you, but help engage you and let you know where you are at your best.

— Harlem Children’s Zone founder Geoffrey Canada — Poor kids can’t afford one lousy teacher, because it will destroy them forever. It’s their only shot at the American dream.

— Ronald Heifetz, co-founder of the Center for Public Leadership at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government — Leadership becomes a dangerous enterprise when you move from what people want to hear to what they need to hear.

The forum’s Monday night opening featured outspoken serial entrepreneur, “Shark Tank” TV-show celebrity and Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban.

The 2015 event is already scheduled for Aug. 24-25, with the headliners being The Bush Family — former President George W. Bush, wife, Laura, and their daughters, Barbara and Jenna.

The rest of the schedule is filled with best-selling authors, motivational speakers, a megachurch pastor and a retired U.S. Army general.

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